Union for Traditional Judaism

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The Union for Traditional Judaism, founded in 1985, was a traditional Conservative Jewish outreach and communal service organization. It was split off of the Conservative Jewish movement, and initially called itself "The Union for Traditional Conservative Judaism". A few years later they dropped the word 'Conservative'. Some of their leaders at various times called themselves Conservative, Modern Orthodox or trans-denominational. At one point the UTJ had a seminary, an association of rabbis, and a committee which has authority over religious issues. The UTJ is often viewed as representing a denomination or inhabiting an ideologic space nestled between Conservative Judaism and Orthodox Judaism.[1] In recent years the organization has ceased to exist. No synagogues today are members of the UTJ, and their seminary no longer exists.


The Union for Traditional Judaism, originally known as the Union for Traditional Conservative Judaism, began as a rabbinic rather than a lay movement. It was founded by a group of traditionalist Conservative rabbis, led by former Jewish Theological Seminary of America Talmud professor David Weiss Halivni, who broke with the movement because of ideological differences, including the Conservative's approach to changes in Halakha and the manner in which the issue of admitting women to the rabbinate was addressed.

Rabbi Halivni and other traditionalists claimed that in this and other areas of Jewish Law, the Conservative movement had made decisions to change from traditional practices in a legislative rather than a judicial fashion, by poll or majority vote. Traditionalists believed that halakhic decision-making should be made by Talmud and Halakha scholars following a process of legal reasoning.

One of the most prestigious Talmudic scholars of the 20th and 21st century, Rabbi Halivni had written a responsum that could permit a more limited role of women as rabbis, although by a more gradual process than the one approved by the Conservative movement.[1][2] Halivni withdrew this responsum prior to leaving the Conservative movement and founding the UTJ. The UTJ issued a responsum opposing the ordination of women as part of its first volume of responsa.[3]

The Union originally intended to form the elements of a separate denomination, including an association of rabbis, a rabbinical school, and an association of synagogues. The organization subsequently described itself as being trans-denominational in character.

Beliefs and practices[edit]

The Union for Traditional Judaism attempts to combine modern approaches to studying Judaism's sacred texts, including the use of critical methods and the study of approaches such as the Documentary hypothesis, with what it regards as classical approaches to interpreting and making decisions regarding Jewish law. As such, it stands in between Modern Orthodox Judaism, which retains a belief that the current written Torah and Oral Torah were transmitted in an unbroken tradition from what was received by Moses on Mount Sinai through Divine revelation, and Conservative Judaism, which in the UTJ's view has sometimes permitted personal views to override classical halakhic scholarship. The Union endorsed women's prayer groups [1]. The Metivta, its rabbinical school, does not ordain women as rabbis.

David Weiss Halivni, one of the Union founders and the head of its rabbinical school, has written extensively on an approach to harmonizing the perspectives of contemporary biblical criticism (as well as critical study of the Talmud) with traditional religious belief. In his books Peshat and Derash and Revelation Restored, he developed the concept he called Chate'u Israel ("Israel sinned"), in which he argued that the biblical texts were originally given to Moses on Mount Sinai, but they subsequently became irretrievably corrupted and the texts we currently have were redacted by editors in an effort to restore them.

Relationship to Conservative Judaism[edit]

Major differences between UTJ and USCJ exist due to UTJ rabbis generally choosing halakhic options with regards to issues related to women, or in the use of siddurim. For instance, UTJ synagogues follow the practice of having separate seating for men and women, and women not acting as a shaliach tzibbur, both positions considered halakhically valid by Conservative rabbis.

In Jewish Choices (Bernard Melvin Lazerwitz et al.) The Union for Traditional Judaism is viewed as a denomination within Conservative Judaism, p. 8.[4]

When describing the creation of the UTJ Stefan Reif refers to the founding members of the UTJ as "traditionalists" within the Conservative movement.[5]

Many other sources, however, describe the Union for Traditional Judaism as a new religious movement positioned between Orthodoxy and the Conservative movement.[6][7][8]

The Institute of Traditional Judaism/The Metivta[edit]

The Institute of Traditional Judaism, also known as the Metivta, is the rabbinical school sponsored by the UTJ. The Metivta trains men for the rabbinate, and also offers study programs for men and women which do not lead to ordination.

Graduates of the rabbinical program have been hired by both Conservative and Orthodox synagogues.

Financial difficulties[edit]

The Union for Traditional Judaism filed for bankruptcy in 2010 following a decrease in donations. It emerged from bankruptcy in January 2011,[9] but had to sell its headquarters building in Teaneck, NJ in order to pay its debts. The building was purchased by Congregation Netivot Shalom, which had been UTJ's Teaneck congregation. Netivot Shalom subsequently broke from the UTJ.

Important figures[edit]

  • David Weiss Halivni - Rabbi, talmud scholar, and Reish Metivta of the UTJ's rabbinical school.
  • David Novak - Rabbi and theologian. He currently teaches at the University of Toronto and the Institute of Traditional Judaism.
  • Isaac S.D. Sassoon - Sephardic Rabbi and scholar. He currently teaches at the Institute of Traditional Judaism.
  • Bruce Ginsburg - Rabbi, spiritual leader of Congregation Sons of Israel, Woodmere, NY, past president of UTJ

See also[edit]


  1. ^ David Fine, "Women and the Minyan", Rabbinical Assembly, 2002, p.9
  2. ^ David Weiss Halivni, The Book and The Sword, Westview Press, 1996, page 105.
  3. ^ Liberman, Tomekh kaHalakhah v.1, 1986.
  4. ^ Jewish Choices: American Jewish Denominationalism, Bernard Melvin Lazerwitz, J. Alan Winter, Arnold Dashefsky, Ephram Tabory, SUNY Press, 1997
  5. ^ Judaism and Hebrew Prayer, Stefan C. Reif, Cambridge Univ. Press, 1995.
  6. ^ Essential Judaism, George Robinson, p.60
  7. ^ Jews in America: A Contemporary Reader Roberta Rosenberg Farber, Chaim Isaac Waxman, University Press of New England [{for} Brandeis University Press, 1999, p.104
  8. ^ Jewish Identity in the Postmodern Age: Scholarly and Personal Reflections, Charles Selengut, Paragon House, 1999, p.33
  9. ^ UTJ Emerges from Bankruptcy, UTJ Press Release

External links[edit]


Further reading[edit]

  • Ament, Jonathon. The Union for Traditional Judaism: A Case Study of Contemporary Challenges to a New Religious Movement. Doctoral Dissertation, Department of Near Eastern and Jewish Studies, Brandeis University, 2004. Reviewed in "Dissertations in Jewish Studies", Jewish Quarterly Review, Volume 95, Number 3, Summer 2005, pp. 601–608